Page 5 of 8

Life Dream House

Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 6:02 pm
by Michael Shuck
My plans are currently in the hands of contractor/builder number 14. In Kansas they are also called "crooks".

I, too, spent several hours at the original house near Patola, CA, hosted by the owner, Peggy Garner, one of the finest, smartest, kindest people I've ever met. She has a supreme love of this house. The money in this house, I think, went mostly into the rock exterior. I like the house very much. I grow weary, however, of ever finding a contractor/builder here in the Midwest who has any appreciation for it. If they can't build it in 60 days from OSB and other inferior materials, they don't want anything to do with it.

I like it better than what I presume RJH to like it. Rattenbury wasn't just in on the design: he designed it. I spent five and a half hours with him in November of last year at Taliesin West. Kind, sharp, experienced...and a dozen stories of his talks and experiences with FLW. He should be considered a national treasure. He told me and FTA that he was concerned that the challenge at that time from Life Magazine wasn't being picked up by anyone else, at least, not with much fervor. So, he took the project and ran with it. He said to me and FTA that he wanted to do one thing differently than had been done in the past. The previous Life House had always been just a concept, that the previous houses featured in Life Magazine had not been built by the time the article featuring it in Life Magazine was published. He wanted to change this and make sure the house was standing by the time the article was published, and he succeeded in this, albeit with some of the rooms and such not quite finished.

If you just have to have a Prairie home or a Usonian, then, no, this is not going to satisfy that desire. But it is a solid house and one that is unique enough to stand on its own, yet conventional enough to have re-salability (is that a real word?). John Rattenbury went over all the changes I'd made to his plans. He could have been shocked as Van Gogt may have with someone showing him how to improve upon his paintings, but he wasn't. He was kind and understanding, and liked all but one of my changes. In fact, he added many more changes to the plan himself! while FTA and I were there!

If you see the actual plans, you'll see that there are several very different elevations to the same floorplan. That kind of versatility seems impossible to me, but those plans are available for purchase. Remember, that one of those elevations other than the one featured in Life Magazine was seen in a photo on this site.

Study this house. If it's not to your taste, go on to something else. Use the legacy program. But I can almost guarantee you that if you build Usonian to the original T, one of the 1500 sq. ft. houses will cost you a million bucks easily. When you consider the intensive labor the Usonians or Prairie homes require, you might think otherwise of building one. The largest bid for "my" house so far is $868,000, totally, and fully complete, including the 2800 sq. ft. basement I added, which Mr. Rattenbury did not dispute. Some folks here in Wichita have built this house 2 years ago. I looked up the tax appraisal and it, including the large lot, was $463,000. So, you can build this house as expensively as you want. In Kansas, houses are ridiculously cheap. Usually.

Remember that FLW encouraged his apprentices to NOT design houses that were like his, but to push the envelope with their own designs while using the principles of organic architecture.

That's my take.


Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 8:38 pm
by RJH

Don’t get me wrong. LDH is a fine design and certainly much better then ordinary houses and I have an enormous respect for Rattenburry. But I think he would be the first to admit he is nowhere near as good as FLW. If you are going to go through the trouble, why not build the best.

The LDH living room is wonderful space along with the one exterior image I posted. However, the other parts (such as the BRs) of the house and interior space is typical box type of architecture. Perhaps due to lowering cost. You recently visited Jacobs I and you must have experienced that every part of the house, even down to insignificant parts such as the bathroom, was downright beautiful space. At least that is the way it is in Haynes. Stand in the LDH garage then stand under Haynes 6�8� carport with T&G patterned cypress boards above your head and experience which space has more beauty. Plus the carport is cheaper.

Before buying Haynes, we examined building LDH back in 2002. We ruled out buying an original FLW. I was of the thinking then that I wanted modern state of the art materials. We got 2 quotes from reputable builders who build high-end 7,000 sft homes in the area. One builder told us it was a mistake to build such a small house and that I would not recover upon selling someday. The other informally quoted $850k. He had serious concerns about the roof structure and round parts of the house such as the office. Lots run $350-$450k. The numbers clearly don’t work.

I personally believe any GC will quote you an extremely high price to cover themselves. LDH is basically experimental to most and they envision themselves alone trying to do and learn something they have never done before and the meter is running. I spoke with Sid Bowen who built 3 Jack Howe houses. One of them just sold for $2.4M (see photo on different post) and the other is waterfront and likely worth $5M. He told me no GC would touch the job. Sid left his job and acted as his own GC. You may want to act as your own GC and hire a licensed GC to oversee the project only for permit purposes. By the way, Sid later quit his job totally and ran off to MIT to study architecture. Must have been a great experience!

Lastly, I really think you can have a much superior design and space at lower cost if you did the Legacy program and you stayed disciplined. From what you’ve posted in the past, I worry more about your self-control, though. If you act like your own GC, and chose a moderate design like the Robert Llewellyn Wright house, it can be a success and you would be more happy with the results.

Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 9:21 pm
by jlesshafft
There is no more legacy program. That is not a possibility. It was discontinued about 1 year ago if memory serves.

Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 9:28 pm
by SDR
A plan with radii and arcs is always going to cost more than the same number of sq ft -- square !


Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 9:58 pm
by RJH

Yes. Carpenters, contractors and even carpet installers who I have spoken to always mention anything round is the most difficult and costly to construct. The Wright football shaped house may be an exception. The exterior is CMU and very inexpensive. Also, as far as I know, the mullions and windows are in right angles. I have been inside Winn and saw how they did it. It is sort of an illusion that makes it appear round. The 1987 Bowen II was football shaped and those were right angles as well.

A while ago I had a phone conversation with Mr. Laurent. I recall him mentioning he asked for a $15k house. Same category as Sweeton. Final cost he said was $25k. Haynes final was $52k. I think the fact that it has an easy, cheap flat roof made it low tech and affordable.

Posted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 10:00 pm
by SDR
Thanks. I guess it is smaller overall, as well ?


Regarding contractors, etc.

Posted: Thu Oct 11, 2007 11:13 am
by Ed Jarolin
I find the "trials & tribulations" endured by Wright homeowners to get their dream homes built most interesting. It seems that only rarely, in the Usonian era, was a general contractor used. Even when a GC was used, seemingly he was often a ex-architect or itinerent such as "master builder" Harold Turner.

Time and time again we see that the owner had to take on the role of GC himself often instructing tradesmen in doing things the Wright way. Then there are the owners who stepped up to the plate and did much of the work with their own hands.

From personal experience, I would say if you want your home built with loving care and want to get lovely result be prepared to do much of it yourself or pay through the nose to engage contractors who are several cuts above the pack.

Posted: Thu Oct 11, 2007 11:18 am
by SDR
Could it be that the best of building has always required such dedication and outlay ? Good stuff rarely happens automatically ?

Even Wright's most humble designs are flagrant disavowals of common practice, and were therefore "custom" objects in the landscape.



Posted: Sun Apr 27, 2008 8:22 pm
by Michael Shuck
I've received some more requests for photos of the LDH. I thank those of you who are building or have built this design for sharing your emails with me.

I have uploaded some photos I've taken, but because I have over 40, and still (happily) get requests for them, I've moved them to:

These are the original LDH. If those of you who have sent me photos privately would email me, and resend your photos, I'll will add them to the others!

Thanks to you all!


Posted: Mon Apr 28, 2008 3:20 pm
by Eric Saed
Mike - thank you for doing this. These are probably the best pix of the LDH I've seen. It gives a much better perspective of the scale and context than the professional photos we've all seen.

Posted: Wed May 21, 2008 11:29 pm
by RJH

Posted: Thu May 22, 2008 6:04 pm
by Roderick Grant
If I expressed my true feelings about the interior decor of this sty, my post would probably be deleted.

Pig Sty LDH

Posted: Thu May 22, 2008 9:51 pm
by Michael Shuck
Yep, I won't comment on the Red Sky house... many changes were made to the plans, but it is my understanding that none were shown to Rattenbury for his advice. Some time ago I commented on a version of the LDH here, and had many regrets for doing so. Folks have sent me pics of their versions, and most are beautiful. Most folks do a good job and their affection for the design and for Rattenbury are evident.

Posted: Sun Jun 29, 2008 1:05 pm
by millewk
My wife and I built a modified version of the 1997 LDH in Big Rock IL in 2002/03. The major problem with the original plans was with the truss roof system as originally designed. We hired a local architect to consult with the truss manufacturer and ultimately came to the conclusion that the roof system, as designed, was not sufficent to comply with local snow load requirements.

We hired an architect to expand the footprint to 3000 sq ft which allowed us to add a basement w/ stair access. While the roof is in keeping with the original design the clearstory windows in the rear were eliminated in favor of sky lights. I know some will take exception, however we had to balance design with cost. The floor plan is exactly the same and the exterior is cedar and stone.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding costs and the "purity of the design." I would suspect that most Wright fans (as am I) would love to own an original, however, even though I'm able, I will not shell out 2 million for any house, even a Wright. Most of us have collected possesions over time which have great meaning to us and our families and feel comfortable living with those items. If Mr. Schuck likes the home and furnishings then he is a happy man and nothing else matters.

Lastly, every new home needs minor modifications in the design and LDH is no exception. Costs for the radiused bays in the dining, Master bedroom and study are cost prohibitive if made round but minimal if faceted with 2' forms. The roof is the largest cost associated with this house and with some modifications is affordable. Now that I'm retired I just ran the numbers for my LDH---$114 per sq. foot in 2002-03. I was the GC, superintendent, mason, etc. It was hard work but worth the effort.

Posted: Sun Jun 29, 2008 8:55 pm
by JimM
millewk wrote:Now that I'm retired I just ran the numbers for my LDH---$114 per sq. foot in 2002-03. I was the GC, superintendent, mason, etc. It was hard work but worth the effort.
Congratulations on your effort. If you don't mind, did you happen to get an estimate (which you felt was realistic) before taking this on?

Even with "free" labor, that cost is almost hard to believe for any house, even when "de-Franked"!